- Telemedicine is surging, but there’s a complex patchwork of state and federal laws governing the business.
- While the rules are starting to get relaxed, the changes are confusing to many in the industry.
- “There’s massive information asymmetry in a crisis,” said Lisa Bari, a health-tech policy consultant.
As part of its effort to extend health services to seniors, the Trump administration announced a major expansion of telemedicine options, allowing Americans enrolled in Medicare to talk to a doctor by phone or video chat for no additional cost.
States including Massachusetts and Florida have also expanded telehealth coverage amid the COVID-19 crisis to make it easier for doctors and patients to connect online and to ensure that physicians get paid. Washington is among states moving to let doctors volunteer to treat patients even if they’re not licensed in the state as long as they can legally practice elsewhere.
More than 260 doctors have already volunteered, though it will take time for them to be vetted, said Stephanie Mason of the Washington State Medical Commission. Getting licensed in other states can still take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The coronavirus, which as of Wednesday has infected more than 6,400 people in the United States, killing at least 114, is threatening to overwhelm the U.S. health system in the coming weeks, creating a need for increased use of remote health services. But a patchwork of state-by-state regulations and a lack of clarity about what’s allowed is causing telemedicine providers to move cautiously. Health plans, meanwhile, aren’t moving as quickly as the federal government to reimburse doctors.